Rugby star Jerry Collins’ lasting impact on his community, opponents and the game have been honoured at a funeral service for the former All Black.
Current and past All Blacks and community leaders joined around 4000 locals to remember the life of the loose forward, killed 12 days ago in a car crash in France.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw joined with former international skipper Tana Umaga and New Zealand greats Jonah Lomu and Dan Carter to remember Collins at Porirua’s Te Rauparaha Arena.
Collins, 34, and his Canadian partner Alana Madill were killed when a bus hit their car near Beziers, leaving their three-month-old daughter Ayla fighting for her life in hospital.
Umaga said his cousin, who played 48 Tests for the All Blacks from 2001-07, including three as captain, was a straight-shooter.
“You didn’t need to muck around with Jerry – he liked it direct. He didn’t like this airy-fairy stuff and that’s what I respected about him.
“If he liked you, you knew it. If he didn’t, you knew that too.
“Jerry loved the game – it’s what he did. He didn’t pick it – it picked him,” Umaga said.
Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett said Collins never forgot where he was from and would often turn out for unfashionable local club side Norths just hours after playing representative rugby.
“He inspired kids growing up in nearby streets to believe that much more in themselves and each other – what a tremendous legacy,” he said.
The community, he said, was in shock and disbelief when news of his death came through.
A teammate of Collins at high school told him he would never forget the sound of someone being tackled by the imposing forward.
“It was like air being sucked out of a lilo,” he told him.
All Blacks manager Darren Shand said Collins was a unique character who set the standard for his position and forged his own legacy.
“You set a benchmark for mentally tough; you set a benchmark for physically uncompromising; you created an inspiration for the next No.6s.
“Your impact has been massive globally,” he told the packed arena.
Hurricanes captain and All Blacks centre Conrad Smith said the impact Collins had on people was not realised until his death and he said the franchise would seek to honour him with the Super Rugby title.
Members of Collins’ and Madill’s families also paid moving tributes to him.
The service comes days after thousands had turned out for a public march through Porirua to honour their Samoan-born hero.
A private burial ceremony for extended family followed the service.